From Thatcher-loving Spice Girls to the rise and fall of Grime4Corbyn, the place of pop music in modern British politics has a long and complex historyby Anthony Broxton / November 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
This election will mark another chapter in the chequered history of the politician and the pop star. Boris Johnson created social media fury when he cited the anti-Thatcherite group the Clash as one of his favourite bands. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, was eager to thank Wiley for a supportive tweet despite reports that the ‘Grime4Corbyn’ movement is now dead.
The first party leader to truly understand the importance of celebrity endorsements was Labour’s Harold Wilson. He included the Beatles on the 1964 Queen’s birthday honours list, making them the first pop stars to achieve such honours. The move created a string of positive headlines but backfired when John Lennon returned his MBE “as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing.”
Wilson understood a good photo opportunity but less so the ambitions of Britain’s top rock stars. His policies on taxation would lead to the great rock n roll exodus when artists such as Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy and David Bowie began recording overseas to avoid the eye-watering 98 per cent tax rates on their ‘unearned income.’
Labour’s policy did attract the support of Elton John, who claimed his fellow pop stars’ behaviour had spurred him into voting for the first time in his life, to prevent these “people being welcomed back.”
The confluence of left-wing pop and left-wing politics came through again in the 1970s, when Labour jumped on the ‘Rock against Racism’ movement spawned from Eric Clapton’s racist ‘get the wogs’ out rant of 1976. Labour took out full-page adverts in the music press advising readers: “Don’t just rock against racism…Vote against it.” It angered the group’s organisers who argued that you can fight racism “by putting a cross on a piece of paper.” It failed to connect with young voters, as 42 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted for the Conservatives, an increase of 18 per cent in just five years.
It would be wrong to suggest that the music world was inherently left-wing as Thatcherism dawned. Paul Weller told NME readers in 1977 that trade unions had brainwashed the public and that he would be voting for Thatcher, because “all this change-the-world thing…